ManyTracks Organic Gardening
Three decades of Growing
in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
To keep in touch with our many friends and readers we started a Blog Post page on our website (see link above in the Menu bar), which travels down many different paths of our lives, including gardening. To keep that page within some semblance of boundaries we delete older posts. But the information is still relevant and of interest to some folks, so I'll be archiving those posts here for now, in date order. Some winter day I'll get inspired and organize them better by subject! Meantime, I hope you have a good time browsing.
GREENHOUSE - Lights! - 2-5-2017
The plants in the greenhouse love sunny days. And they are content to rest when it’s dark or cloudy. That works out fine for us if they are mature and don’t need to grow; we just harvest leaves as we want them. But by mid-winter the old plants are all harvested and the young plants are waiting for longer, brighter days to grow. This has been our in-between time of year when often the only green in our salads is chopped parsley. We’ve often talked of adding grow-lights but they have traditionally been power-hogs that wouldn’t fit into our conservative-use winter alternative energy system. Short and cloudy days mean less power for us as well as the plants. Until now...
Our house lighting is entirely LED (except for one lone compact fluorescent
holdout). Steve has been building and adding LED lights to the house since
the early days of LED lighting, when making your own lights was about the
only way to have them, and the choices were few and expensive. Forward a few
years and LED lighting is now not only readily available but popular and
inexpensive! Technology moves fast. Could we now consider adding lights to
the greenhouse? Our PV system is larger, and we truly want fresh, and
abundant, greens in our salads. So before Steve was quite done with the
Array-Cam project, he was checking out, ordering, designing, building lights
for the greenhouse.
GREENHOUSE - Calendula - 1-15-2017
Sub zero temps outside but cheery inside! When it's this cold it also (usually) means clear sunny days and beautiful brisk starry nights. The solar heating panels and south facing windows pour in the heat (in a winter moderate way) so we bank the woodstove and don't have to get it going again until the sun goes down. And the PV system is at its highest with clear sun and reflective snow. The batteries are full and we turn on small heaters to make use of the extra power. And that calendula in the greenhouse breaks out the blooms to celebrate.
Actually, the calendula has been happily blooming in the greenhouse since soon after I transplanted it from the garden in October, a rooted side shoot of a summer growing plant. It's wonderfully tolerant and is content to blossom whether it's winter or summer, inside or out, as long as its basic needs are met--sunshine, moderate moisture, no deep freezes. It thankfully does not have high demands. That's why it's one of my favorite flowers. A hardy annual it can handle some frost; is easy to grow; self sows readily; is a sturdy plant that gets along well with others. And it blooms and blooms and blooms as long as you keep the spent blossoms picked off. Though towards the end of summer you have to leave some to mature seeds so it can provide plants next year.
Mine is a common variety - Pacific Beauty Mix - nice gold/yellow blossoms. I like it. It's been self sowing in my garden for so long I've forgotten when I first planted the seed. But I noticed this year that I didn't have many plants coming up, the downside of having a very good mulch that sometimes mulches out seeds I want to grow. And I found I had neglected to harvest any seed, I was so used to it sowing itself. Now, I expect they'll be some calendula popping up somewhere next year, they don't give up that easily, but just to be sure I bought new seed. I think I'll plant a few inside right now so maybe I'll have some extra early fresh blooms in the spring. The plants I dig up from the garden do sometimes get a bit tired by late winter.
It's a little cold in the greenhouse right now, it was down to 32 degrees this morning after a ten below night, but it gets up in the low 50's during a sunny day. Everything growing out there is hardy so I don't worry about the low temps but I'll start the seed inside the house to give it a warm start. We all enjoy that sunshine when it happens but it's those cloudy days outside that the fresh green plants and bright calendula flowers growing in the greenhouse really brighten our winter days.
GREENHOUSE - Activity - 1-9-2017
Well, maybe not a lot of activity but it warmed up outside today to 20 deg. and we're supposed to have a few days of these warm temperatures (and finally some real snow showers, too!) (we only have about 8-10" right now) so I figured this was my chance to transplant the waiting lettuce seedlings into the recently cleared (by eating) flats. Not much growth is happening yet but I'd like these to be ready when the days get longer and things pick up. And it was a pleasant (relatively speaking) 47 degrees inside. So we now have 8 flats of greenhouse lettuce -- Brown Winter, Salina, Red Tinged, Diamante -- ready to grow when the conditions are right. And since we're getting down to real slim pickings with what is left of the older crop we'll be quite ready, too. It was fun to dig in the dirt again, even if in a small way.
GARDEN - Looking Forward - 1-7-2017
I enjoy looking back at last season’s garden but mostly I’m looking ahead to the coming season. What do I want to change, what do I want to do different this year? Some decisions I don’t make until I’m standing in the garden with plants or seeds in hand, looking for a good spot for this or that, or a bit of extra room for just one more whatever. But I do write out a general plan; it helps me to have an overall idea. Most of what I grow has settled in nicely based on many years of what we like, what we eat, what grows best, what works here. But there’s always room for something new. And my biggest change this coming season will be to add more flowers and herbs and to mix things up a bit. Nothing exotic, just something more for the pollinators, and for fun.
I’ve been swimming in a sea full of ideas for the orchard, adding diversity,
looking for understory ideas for the fruit trees, growing towards what some
are calling nowadays a “forest garden”. And I realized I could easily do
more of that in my vegetable garden. The two aren’t really separate, the
roughly 50 x 80 ft vegetable plot being in the middle of the orchard, with
berries in both, but on paper they are separate. And on paper my vegetable
plot is very organized. Some things even stay that way in the garden --
corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes tend to be in their own 4 x 32 ft plots.
Except for those that end up elsewhere, leftovers when the main plot is
full. And mostly the other crops are in smaller blocks, one next to another.
It’s not that I don’t care for the companion planting idea, or ideal. It’s a
practical thing, that often has to do with frosts.
GARDEN - 2016 - 1-5-2017
A new year is here with infinite possibilities! There’s nothing quite like imagining working (playing) in the garden to warm you up on a cold winter’s evening. It may be zero degrees outside but in my mind it’s warm and sunny with green things growing all around as I look over my garden plan. What happened this past season? What worked, what didn’t, what seeds do I need to grow out this coming year, what do I need to buy? And I wonder anew at the abundant food that garden gave us. It’s always amazing but this year was over the top for some of the more heat loving crops.
Every year is different; that is one thing I can always depend on! And this
past year it was record warmth. I usually figure, roughly, a frost free
growing season from about the 2nd week in June till the first or second week
in September. This year we had a mild spring, with a last frost mid May,
then just one freeze June 7. Then we didn’t have another frost (freeze
actually) until October 9. In between was unusually warm with plenty of
rain. The corn and squash were beside themselves with joy and enthusiasm.
And the sunflowers turned into trees that I almost had to get out an axe to
cut down. The squash I grow is a relatively short season buttercup variety I
got from Kathleen Plunket-Black of Plum Creek Seeds, a long time and very
experienced seed saver in Arkansas WI. It’s rich, sweet and nutty, and I
usually get a reasonable crop with maybe half the fruit maturing before
frost. So I plant with that in mind. But this year not only did the vines
grow with abandon setting fruit right and left (thankfully along the edge of
the garden so they could sprawl out over the grass), every single one,
except for one half grown late specimen, fully matured. Wow, did we have
squash this year! I make a bit of squash soup but our favorite is to have
plain cooked squash with our luncheon salad, almost every day. We never tire
GREENHOUSE - Greens - 12-30-2016
In the winter we move to eating out of the greenhouse instead of the garden. Not only is it great to see growing green things when it is white and freezing outside, it's great to have fresh greens to eat! In the summer the greenhouse is empty of plants and is our heat loving Sasha cat's domain. But come October it comes to life once again. This is how it looked Oct. 20 when first moved in from the garden where they had been growing.
In the short days of fall and early winter there is not much growth so I start lettuce and spinach in the garden, then move the full grown plants inside when the real freezes start outside. Full grown plants of kale and parsley and others are dug and transplanted into the waist high bed along the house side of the greenhouse. This works great. I can harvest from them all winter. There most often is little growth until January when the days start getting significantly longer and there is (usually) more sun. But this year it was oddly warm and sunny in Nov. & Dec. So the lettuce in particular just kept growing. It got to be quite a jungle and there was plenty for luncheon salads. But 70 days later you can see it is getting a bit sparse. So I'm looking forward to the coming flush of January growth. In the far end are two flats of small lettuce seedlings waiting to be transplanted to the larger flats as the older plants are removed. They will be our salads later in the winter.
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appreciate links to our site www.ManyTracks.com from appropriate sites, and we thank you for
Have you read "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener" ? A fun short read.
or "Homesteading Adventures" Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.
and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun" A journey you can use in your own garden.